I’m going to admit now.
There is no way to describe El Paso in a single blog but I’ll try my best.
With close to one million residents, El Paso is the biggest city on the Texas side of the border.
Mural at the Stanton Street Bridge in downtown El Paso. (Sergio Chapa/Borderzine.com)
But it’s also filled with many contrasts making it one of the most complex and intriguing.
The border city is home to four international bridges and one international railroad crossing.
Lupita and I stayed in the historic Camino Real Hotel in downtown El Paso where we set up our base to explore this exciting region.
On the eastern edge of town is a region known as Ysleta and Zaragoza.
The area is home to the Ysleta International Bridge and the Tigua Indian Reservation.
It’s not an Indian reservation in the traditional sense like those people think about in Arizona or New Mexico.
The Ysleta International Bridge. (Sergio Chapa/Borderzine.com)
It seemed like any other neighborhood in the city but included a small, gated community.
Lupita and I visited the Indian reservation’s cultural center where we watched young people dance and sing in the Tigua language.
We were fascinated watching them dance to rhythms of the drums.
Just down the street was the Speaking Rock Casino.
Lupita and I thought it was a sign since in the Big Bend and Terlingua we lived the experience of how the “rocks cry out.”
Just to the south of the Indian reservation is the Yselta International Bridge, which connects that part of El Paso to the sprawling eastern end of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.
Just across the bridge is a water park on the Mexican side.
It seemed such a decadent destination during 100 degree weather in the summer in the desert.
The canals lining the Rio Grande had water but there was only a trickle in the river itself.
Bridge of the Americas
The border highway just west of downtown El Paso. (Sergio Chapa/Borderzine.com)
One of the engineering marvels of El Paso is the Border Highway, a multi-lane roadway that straddles the Rio Grande River and hugs the international border.
The busy highway links the Ysleta International Bridge to the Cordoba International Bridge just the west.
The Cordoba Bridge, which is also known as the Bridge of the Americas, is one of the busiest.
Other than Falcon Dam or Amistad Dam, it’s the only free bridge in Texas.
The area is also known as Chamizal for a park by the same name on both sides of the border.
Lupita and I walked across the Bridge of the Americas and in to Ciudad Juarez.
We were saddened to see no water in the Rio Grande River but there was also a surprise.
Arriving to the Mexican side, we saw former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s “No More Weapons” sign.
Calderon placed the sign there at a time when Ciudad Juarez had a record number of drug-related murders asking the United States to end weapons trafficking to Mexico.
Lupita and I met a journalist friend for breakfast and coffee.
He gave us a tour of Ciudad Juarez driving around several parts of the city.
We saw the “Monumento X” a large red monument in the shape of the letter X.
Driving through immaculate shopping centers, everything seemed normal.
Breakfast in Ciudad Juarez. (Sergio Chapa/Borderzine.com)
Everyone seemed to be going about their daily business but one thing we noticed is that the shops were all Mexican and American chain stores.
There seemed to be a noticeable absence of locally-owned businesses in these shopping centers.
We drove past the American Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, which is one of the busiest along the border because marriage visas are processed there.
It was a massive, gated compound with lots of security. All of it the result of the drug-related violence that plagues the city.
We zipped in and out of traffic and made it back to the Bridge of the Americas.
Lupita and I took a stroll through the pine trees and green grass of Parque El Chamizal before crossing back to the American side of the border.
Downtown El Paso
There is a high concentration of border crossings in downtown El Paso.
In addition to the Stanton Street Bridge and Paseo del Norte Bridge, there is also an international railroad crossing.
Lupita and I crossed back into Ciudad Juarez at the Paseo del Norte Bridge.
It’s what most people consider the “main bridge” between the two border cities.
Walking across the bridge, we snapped photos of the dry concrete channel that was supposed to contain the Rio Grande River.
“Nos robaron el agua,” said one street vendor. “The gringos stole the water.”
It was a shock for Lupita and I because the Rio Grande was a constant companion along our trip.
After seeing the river in different colors, flows, level and clarity, it was heartbreaking.
Strolling through downtown Ciudad Juarez wasn’t very pleasant.
A lot of businesses were closed and a number of buildings were for rent or sale.
There seemed to be a large number indigent people and at times it seemed like all their eyes were on us.
Fun Fact: The margarita was invented at the Kentucky Club in Ciudad Juarez. (Sergio Chapa/Borderzine.com)
We did make it to the Kentucky Club, a popular watering hole founded during Prohibition in the 1920s.
The bar is home to the margarita, which was invented there in 1921.
After a couple of drinks, Lupita and I returned back to El Paso.
We snapped pictures of the murals of the Stanton Street Bridge.
Lupita and I met up with a friend where he had dinner and then went out in the downtown bar district.
We ended the night with a ride along Scenic Drive where an overlook gave a view of the city lights from both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.
It was a beautiful sight and a fantastic trip across the border.
Downtown El PasoEl Paso-Ciudad Juárezinternational bridgesinternational crossings
Living in New York is definitely different than where I came from. There are definite seasons and there is SO MUCH GREEN that it can be overwhelming at times. Thinking of home brings a sense of comfort and helps to ground me when I’m stressed. I was born and raised in El Paso, right at the western tip of Texas. It’s a strange city, El Paso. There is an odd sense of Texas pride, even though we have a different time zone than the rest of Texas, and it takes at least eight hours to get to the next major city. All strange things aside, the city of El Paso can be amazing to experience, even when you don’t want to. There is a love/hate relationship that so many residents of El Paso have with our city, but nonetheless, the love portion will always be stronger.
So, here are five signs that you’re from El Paso, Texas
1. The Nation of Orange and Blue
UTEP is awesome, there is nothing wrong with having pride in our university, but the colors can be a bit... overused at times. All you need to see is UTEP orange and you know you are in Miner country now.
2. Nighttime at Scenic Drive
Taking a trip to Scenic Drive could be seen as a rite of passage for teenagers in El Paso. Everyone has taken at least one drive there with friends or their significant other on a Friday Night (and if you haven't, you want to). There is no denying that seeing the city lights is a beautiful sight, and it only proves how nice El Paso can be from the right perspective.
3. Post Game Chico's Tacos
Personally, I have never taken part in this one, but most high schoolers have, and certainly this does not have to be post game. There is a weird infatuation with the almost always over crowded food joint in the Sun City, but the numbers seem to increase after a football game. They must be doing something right though, because even The Food Network has talked about Chicos.
4. Whataburger Forever In Our Hearts
When the Chicos Tacos gets to crowded, or you start to crave food at two in the morning, Whataburger will always welcome you with open arms. I know this isn't just an El Paso thing, but it certainly defines a social aspect of our city. Everyone knows (even me, a vegetarian) that Whataburger is the best. No question.
5. The Army of Tumbleweeds
I’m sure you’ve all been driving around the city on a particularly windy day and turn slightly to the left or right to see the troops of the tumbleweed army lining up on the freeway. Wouldn’t want to be against them, even if you’re in the car, because your paint job will not thank you afterwards.
6. Quinceneras in the Mall
I want to start this section by apologizing to anyone who may take offense.
We have all been at the point in our lives when we’re hanging out at the mall, wondering what else there is to do in this oh so wonderful city, when you see a girl dressed in a colorful dress. And then you see another. And another. And another with three boys all dressed in tuxedos. And before you know it, there is a girl, beautifully dressed in a white gown, strolling down the walkway, and all you can think is, "Why?"
7. The Never-Ending Construction
So this has only been going on for the past couple of years, but it certainly has become a part of the city name. How long do you wait in traffic because another lane is closed? When did that bridge get there? Why do we need to pave new roads when we just did that last year? So many questions, not enough time (especially if you've been sitting in traffic for an hour).
8. The Army of Teenagers at the Movies
After you get through the traffic and see the army of tumbleweeds, or after you decide not to go to the mall because its a Saturday night and the Quinceneras are definitely there, you decide to watch a movie. But you can't forget that with the weekend, comes the hoard of teenagers huddling at the exit of the movies or walking around the street, ignoring the cars driving by. I know there may not be any clear things to do on the weekend, but surely going to the movies every weekend can get repetitive.
9. City in Texas, but not Texas
If you look at a map of Texas (right above this) and ask someone who isn't from Texas where they think El Paso is, they'll probably think its somewhere near the major cities like Dallas or Houston. Truth be told rest of the world, we're closer to New Mexico than the rest of Texas. So with that distance comes the weird "I have Texas pride but not really because the rest of Texas forgets about us" complex. No matter, being a part of Texas will always be one of the things we like to talk about most.
10. The Star
This has to be my favorite on the list. Driving home at night and catching sight of that star on the mountain, letting you know you’re home. I didn’t think I would miss something that has always been there when I moved away, but the first time I flew home to visit and caught sight, it was a beautiful reminder of where I come from.